If you were to guess the name of the media company that reaches nine of out 10 U.S. adults each month, odds are you wouldn’t get it right on your first try. That’s because the answer is iHeartMedia, which operates in a space still underestimated in parts of the marketing world: broadcast and digital audio.
In this episode of CleverTap Engage—our podcast and video interview series spotlighting marketing leaders who are achieving meaningful and memorable customer engagement—our co-hosts, Peggy Anne Salz and John Koetsier, chat with iHeartMedia Digital Audio Group CEO Conal Byrne about the deep level of user engagement that marketers can achieve in an intimate, personalized, and influencer-driven medium like audio.
At iHeartMedia, Byrne oversees a network of nearly 1,000 shows, which account for more than 250 million downloads per month and manages a nationwide team of podcast production groups. Prior to joining iHeartMedia, Byrne was a pioneer in the podcast space as President and CEO of Stuff Media, Inc., home of the popular platform HowStuffWorks (HSW) and shows including “Stuff You Should Know.” Previously, he served as Senior Vice President of Digital Media for Discovery Communications, where he was responsible for digital operations across all of Discovery’s sites and social platforms.
Along with a discussion about creating effective engagement through audio, Byrne shares insights on building relevant partnerships, achieving hyper-customization, and much more.
In the rapidly growing field of podcasting, iHeartMedia is the number one producer. “We have over 50 podcasts that drive over one million monthly downloads each, and those are across 19 or 20 different genres,” says Byrne.
Surprisingly, as podcasting has grown massively in terms of monthly listeners, its engagement rate has held extraordinarily high. “Usually, your early adopter super fans engage hugely, and then as you [achieve] mass reach, the average individual’s engagement decreases a little bit,” he notes. “We just haven’t seen that in podcasting.”
Byrne attributes this steady level of engagement both to the level of comfort and authenticity that the best podcasters demonstrate with their audiences and to the attentive mindset of listeners: “The mode of somebody listening to a podcast is curiosity, educational; they’re in a mode to learn something new. Podcasting is lean-in.”
A critical part of iHeartMedia’s success is in partnering with master storytellers who know how to build worlds for their audiences. “We are an influencer-driven company. We have a roster of amazing storytellers,” says Byrne. “In comedy, we partnered a few years ago with Will Ferrell. He wanted to launch a stand-alone company with us and build a world that was an unfettered creative playground and a perfect place to find, develop, and break new comedic talent in America. He built a company called Big Money Players. We support all the production and marketing; he brings the creative genius and recruits and develops talent.”
According to Byrne, podcasting and digital audio can deliver the same level of targeting and attribution for which digital media is known. “What’s really driven podcast and digital audio ad sales at iHeart is audience targeting,” he explains. For example, “there’s psychographic targeting, where we can pull together a contextual cohort of the kind of audience you’re looking for.” Coming very soon, he adds, AI will take this customization to an entirely new level. “Some of the most exciting stuff happening now is in voice technology being able to capture—always with the permission of creators—enough of a human voice to be able to tailor it to local markets.”
For more of Conal Byrne’s insights on growth, engagement, and personalization—including how to creatively use NFTs, as well as the sage advice he once received from a media marketing legend—listen to the entire episode. (Full transcript is below.)
John Koetsier: What can you learn from someone who oversees a network of nearly 1,000 shows with more than 250 million downloads per month? Today, we’re chatting with an exec in the audio space, but not just the audio space. As we see elsewhere in the Great Smush, aka the Ultimate Convergence, capabilities and activities are coming together. TikTok is doing games; Fortnite is doing movies; Meta’s horizon world is VR, sure, but it’s also watch parties and so much more; Twitter does live streaming. Everybody is putting everything together. In a similar way, perhaps, today’s guest is mashing up audio, music, gaming, NFTs, and perhaps even fitness. Welcome to CleverTap Engage. My name is John Koetsier.
Peggy Anne Salz: And I’m Peggy Anne Salz. Together, we profile executives and companies achieving meaningful, memorable, and clever customer engagement. In this episode, it’s all coming together. We’re chatting with Conal Byrne. He is CEO at iHeartMedia Digital Audio Group, number one podcast publisher globally, and the industry-leading iHeartRadio digital service. Before joining iHeartMedia, Conal was also a pioneer in podcast as President and CEO of Stuff Media. Might remember, home of popular shows including “How Stuff Works” and “Stuff You Should Know.” Before that, he was the Senior Vice President of Digital Media for Discovery Communications, where he ran digital for all of Discovery’s U.S. networks, sites, social platforms, bringing it all together. Welcome, Conal. Great to have you.
Conal Byrne: Thank you, guys, so much. John, Peggy, it means a lot that you give me 20, 30 minutes to have a conversation with you. Really appreciate it.
John Koetsier: Hey, let’s start here. You were hired to grow and you’re already reaching nine out of 10 Americans monthly, so you got massive market reach. Where do you grow from there?
Conal Byrne: I think it’s helpful to go back a little bit and understand what we’re growing from, what sort of base we’re growing from. I’ll do the really quick history here. It’s 15, 16 years ago; I was the general manager of a website called HowStuffWorks.com. What we realized at that site was our best asset wasn’t necessarily the articles we were putting out there into the world, which our goal was to explain everything and anything under the sun. Our best asset was the people who worked at the company. They were inherently really good storytellers. So when podcasting started to rear its head, we sound-proofed a few rooms, we put some three to four copywriters into these rooms and they started to tell stories conversationally about the stuff that they had just written. Sometimes, at least the beginning, the spark is that easy. We suddenly had five, six, seven shows that – you’re right, Peggy, as you listed them off – have become some of the biggest podcasts in the world, like “Stuff You Should Know.” That grew and grew. Suddenly, 10 years later, we were one of the biggest podcast networks in an industry that was just forming, called podcasting.
iHeartMedia came along in 2018 and acquired this company because iHeart realized, a probably permanent new way that a lot of people are going to listen to audio storytelling is through this very cool new medium called podcasting. At that point, we had 60 million, 70 million downloads a month. Today, cut to four, five years in, we have nearly 500 million downloads a month when you really count all of our shows. The growth is exceptional. The reason for that growth, and this is back to the point, is the stat you said, John. iHeart through its broadcast radio channels has a reach on parity with the likes of Google and Facebook in the United States through sheer mass reach of broadcast radio. The company reaches nine out of 10 American adults a month. That is rarefied air for a media company to be in.
Why does it matter to podcasting? Because we’ve been able to put that marketing to work for the shows that we launch, and for the shows we already had. We were able to layer on huge mass-reach marketing and broadcast radio to bring big audiences, but importantly, new audiences to podcasting. Keep in mind, broadcast radio reaches a lot of listeners, yes, on the coasts, but also in the Heartland, in the Midwest, in the center of America where sometimes edgy big tech is slow to penetrate, but broadcast radio is not. So we’ve been able to bring a bunch of new people into podcasting, starting with our shows, and it’s meant all the growth in the world for us over the last, especially, two, three years.
Peggy Anne Salz: That is growth through talent and building there, but you’re not just building in terms of size, you’re deepening audience ties, you’re shifting from stories to services. This is a fascinating story that I’ve been looking at, and one of the things you’ve said is this is all possible because you’re building capabilities to “world-build” for your audience. New term for me. What do you mean by that?
Conal Byrne: Well, it means a couple of things. We have tried very hard to not just be good at one kind of podcasting or one genre of podcasting. Podcasting has exploded, especially in genres that we all know well like true crime and now news. We have tried to actually spread the wealth and our success across 19 or 20 categories. A stat that I love is, we have over 50 podcasts that drive over 1 million monthly downloads each, and those are across 19 or 20 different genres. So we are not a one-trick pony as it were. That’s been very deliberate and intentional. How did we get there? We intentionally partnered with, I believe, the best and brightest in the world of content creation to go deep and world-build inside these genres. In comedy, we partnered a few years ago with Will Ferrell to launch a podcast called the “Ron Burgundy Podcast.” You are welcome, America.
John Koetsier: And we thank you.
Conal Byrne: Speaking for the country, we thank you. The reason I like that story is not just because that’s an awesome show – and by the way, the new season launches mid-June. I think it’s Season 5 now. It is always the funniest season ever, trust me. The reason I like the story is because Will Ferrell fell in love with the podcast medium through that show. The reason we were the benefactor of that is because he wanted to launch a network. He wanted to launch a stand-alone company with us and build a world in this new medium that he felt like was a total unfettered creative playground and a perfect place to find, develop, and break new comedic talent in America. And so he built a company called “Big Money Players” that we are co-owners in with Will Ferrell. We support all the production and marketing. He brings the creative genius that he is to the table and recruits and develops talent.
What he’s really done is just build a whole new world of comedic podcasters. They’re podcasters to start with. They will turn into a lot of other things, whether it’s TV, film, book writers, or touring artists, but it’s a good example. It’s one of several. Every single category where we felt like we could probably get there on our own. It might take us a bit long, but let’s level up and partner with Will Ferrell or Malcolm Gladwell or Shonda Rhimes or Will Packer or Charlamagne tha God. We have. And it meant we could just go a little bit faster, sometimes a lot faster.
Peggy Anne Salz: That is a great story about how you’re pushing the envelope. You’re involving new talent. You’re reaching new audiences by, as you said, world-build, but you’re also in other worlds, which is very interesting. One world is gaming. And an excellent example, iHeartLand. Tell us about that. Where is that collaboration today? Because I think you announced it in March, fairly recently.
Conal Byrne: We did. We have two or three things at our core. We are an influencer-driven company. We have a roster of amazing storytellers. People use that term a lot in media, but it’s hard to be a grade-A, tier-one storyteller. It’s hard to make conversation that then turns into culture and trends. That’s actually a hard skill. Broadcast radio is exceedingly good at that, at honing that human craft of talking, the power of conversation. So that’s the first thing we are. We are really empowered because we’re, at our core, a roster of, I think, the best storytellers in the world. The second thing we are, though, is mass reach. We have, again, the benefit of being able to take those influencers and connect them with mass-reach audiences in all 50 states across the country.
When a new platform arises like Roblox with 200 million monthly active users, or Epic Fortnite with 100 million monthly active users, give or take, we sit up and take notice, and we start to ask ourselves questions as a mass-reach media company that wants to meet audiences where they are. This is almost a mandate inside our company, to meet audiences where they are, to not force them into our app, our platform, to meet them halfway. Meet them where they are. As a widely distributed content company, we start to think to ourselves, well, how would we show up then to those 200 million monthly actives in Roblox or the 100 million in Epic Fortnite? What should we show up like? What should we sound like? What’s the best version of iHeart on these platforms?”
That meant us digging in deep with Roblox several months ago, and starting to think about and getting a lot of feedback from them of, what would you want iHeart to look and specifically sound like on your platform? Again, this is a super-interesting demo in Roblox given that it’s 200 million monthly actives, but it is two-thirds, roughly, 16 years old and younger. That said, it’s a demo that’s aging up just a little, but aging up quickly. So it’s a complicated demographic. How do you program for kids? How do you turn that into a business? Very carefully, is the answer.
All of these questions arise, and we sat down with Roblox and we said, look, fundamentally, what does it look like for somebody like iHeart that’s very good at storytelling and programming to show up on a platform like Roblox? And you’re right, Peggy. We landed on this idea of iHeartLand, which will launch later this summer, which is in effect a map inside Roblox where… Much more to come on this because we’re being sort of careful about what we announce when, but the build is under way. The thrust of this is persistent awesome programming, where you feel like you can come and see live podcasts, live artists, musicians performing, interact with them in ways that the metaverse lets you sort of level up how you might interact with them in IRL, amid all the awesome gameplay and interactivity that these platforms are really good at anyway.
So, for us, it’s funny. Four or five years ago at iHeart, there was a buzz about podcasting when we all sort of felt like this is very real. This was before 120 million Americans a month were listening to a podcast. We already felt like this is very real. That same buzz is sort of alive right now at iHeart around the potential of the metaverse and us viewing it as a persistent, maybe permanent new platform that we can do awesome stuff on for fans. So, much more to come, but it is world-building at its finest, I hope.
John Koetsier: Now, you’re bringing in NFTs as well. You talked Web3, you talked metaverse. Well, hey, here’s a little bit of NFT, maybe even some crypto, who knows? Where do NFTs fit in your content strategies, and how are you going to leverage that in and around all that you do already?
Conal Byrne: NFTs hit our radar like anyone in media who wasn’t living under a rock maybe a year and a half, two years ago. They hit our radar, like everybody, as sort of collectibles first, I think. That has evolved fast. I’m fully aware that some months, NFTs have a good month in the public perception, and some months they take a hit because everyone thinks they’re not real and we should all move on from them. We don’t think that. I think NFT technology, of course, blockchain technology, more largely put, but NFT technology is as much of a game-changer as some have said. We think of NFTs. The reason we think that is because we think of NFTs in three different ways, just because, easier to remember. I sort of think of it as three Cs: collectibles, community, and content. We are moving down each of these paths in parallel. As collectibles, sure. We will launch a bunch of awesome NFT collections off of our coolest IP. We’ve already started to do that and fans like it, they engage with it, they appreciate it.
We have a thing called the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas every September. It’s an awesome two-day lineup of the best musicians in the world. We launched a series of NFTs off that last September. “The Breakfast Club,” one of our biggest morning shows, picked a couple of digital artists that they loved and wanted to highlight. They launched two NFT collections off each of those artists. They sold out in 45 minutes. It was awesome. We will continue to do that, collectibles.
The second version for us of NFT sort of leveling up digital media is community. For anyone that has joined a Dow or joined a token-gated community of any kind, whether it’s a bona fide Dow or just an NFT community that gives you some sort of utility or membership, you know that the difference between that, the empowerment and the sense of community that you feel as compared to simply following a Twitter handle or liking a Facebook page, is a big difference. Before, if I wanted to show my membership, as it were, in an IP or in a community, I would like a Facebook page. I would follow them on Twitter. Today, if I own a token or an NFT, that gives me membership into that community. It’s a whole different ball game. The membership sometimes, literally the governance I feel around that IP, is new and exciting. We want to do that and experiment with that with five, 10, 15 of our biggest IPs, whether it’s “Stuff You Should Know,” or “The Breakfast Club,” or the iHeartRadio series of programming live events we have every year, like Jingle Ball. Huge potential for us to turn those into token-gated communities also.
The third version for us is content. In a way, this is maybe the most creatively exciting for us. I’ll give you one example, just to make it very specific. We were sort of taken with this idea that a lot of the best-known NFT collections are PFPs or character-based NFTs, obviously. So we thought of this idea of acquiring a series of NFTs like a Mutant Ape, a CryptoPunk, a World of Women, a Loot, a Quirky, with the intention of turning those into podcast hosts. So we acquired 10 to 15 NFTs. We put a bunch of amazing, actually, mostly comedy writers in a writer’s room. They built back stories for these characters. We brought in some of our best producers, we brought in awesome voice actors, and we’re breathing life sort of literally into these NFT characters as podcast hosts for a slate of shows we will launch across the next 12 months called the “Non-Fun Squad.”
Peggy Anne Salz: I love it.
Conal Byrne: You’re welcome, Silicon Valley. Some of this is so silly and irreverent that it’s almost flippant and sort of wacky, but it’s also just… It’s really fun to see creatives build, whole cloth, new IP. I know technically it isn’t because we’re building it off the back of NFTs, but turning an NFT, a JPEG in a sense, into a whole new IP that is mashed up together in a way that you can’t really do in traditional media. You’re not going to see Harry Potter co-star with Luke Skywalker because of a plethora of reasons. But to be able to do that kind of stuff creatively in the world of NFT technology is really exciting. Not to mention, the potential of building out a whole new NFT collection from the “Non-Fun Squad.” But just imagine, I mean, the first episode of this will launch in the next few weeks, and to imagine, say, a Mutant Ape co-hosting a podcast with a CryptoPunk and just sort of talking about where they come from and why they’re doing this show. Just creatively, it’s really exciting. So for anyone older than a certain age, they will know the rock band called Gorillaz.
Peggy Anne Salz: I was just thinking that. I was just thinking Gorillaz.
Conal Byrne: It’s Gorillaz for podcasting.
Peggy Anne Salz: All over.
Conal Byrne: It’s Gorillaz for podcasting. Peggy, the reason I say that is because we have a lot of sellers at iHeart who are the best sellers in audio, I think, in the world. And I said everything I just said to you guys, and they were still like, “Uh-huh, Uh-huh.” And then I said, “Okay. It’s Gorillaz for podcasting,” and everyone is like, “Oh, I got it.”
Peggy Anne Salz: Got it.
Conal Byrne: Perfect.
Peggy Anne Salz: I have to say you are different from very, very many of our guests. You go out, you meet the customers, you meet the audience where they are halfway, and you’re thinking about things that are sounding like you’re just going to land, you know, out of a spaceship. It’s just so different. You actually may do it.
John Koetsier: The shareholders won’t like that one.
Conal Byrne: Stepping out of a spaceship with a rose in hand as our stock price.
John Koetsier: It’s the Elon Musk partnership.
Conal Byrne: Exactly.
Peggy Anne Salz: I mean, it’s a talent to have your finger on the pulse like that. But I remember from our prep, you made a very bold statement and now I totally get it, but I want to have more depth to this. You said, “Most brands are on mute.” What do you mean by that?
Conal Byrne: If you look at how we – the people who consume media, all the people who watch this amazing programming on streaming channels and listen to all these amazing podcasts – I think if you walked up to anyone, even the sophisticated sort of Illuminati of media and said, “Hey, break it down for me. What do you think the consumption pie looks like in terms of audio? How much of the media we consume is audio?” I think you’d get back answers around, I don’t know, 10%, 15%. And the truth is: 31%. A third of all the stuff that we consume as rabid, voracious media consumers is audio. By the way, I’ll break that down a little further: 75% of that audio is broadcast radio. That’s the stat that I guarantee you everyone would get wrong. They would probably say, “I don’t know, maybe it’s half streaming apps, Pandora, Spotify, etc.” No, it’s 75% broadcast radio.
I’ll do one more. If you wanted to ask a marketer, how much of that 31% – when you take into account ads – how much of that is ad-enabled, a marketing vehicle for my brand? You’re up to 90%. By not-complicated or controversial math, you’re up to 90% broadcast radio. Now, I don’t mean to go off on a tangent and sing the praises of broadcast radio for the rest of this interview. It’s just really an important level set because as we think of audio being this hugely outsized part of our media consumption, what we’re talking about is broadcast radio. That aside, you have this new medium coming up very fast in podcasting. Tons of growth in this new medium, but let’s know and realize what the scale is today.
Knowing all that and filing that data point away, if you were to walk into an ad agency or a brand on the ground in a hyper-local market in America, I can guarantee you that their marketing spend is not proportionately aligned to that 31%. There’s a bevy of reasons – I was going to say excuses – but reasons as to why: Well, it’s hard. How do I market something without the visual? Do you ever hear of word-of-mouth? The single most powerful marketing vehicle in the world is still a friend telling you to do something, because you have leapfrogged the most important thing in media and the hardest to build, which is trust. I guarantee you, if you walked into any marketer in the country and said, “Hey, just break down your marketing spend. Is it 31% audio?” It’s not going to be 31% audio.
Without sounding harsh, because I want to fix this – and we work with brands every day to level this up – brands are, I believe, playing catch up to that stat. Again, this goes back to our adamant belief, if you want to meet audiences where they are, you have to think about shifting some of your marketing spend to audio. As an asterisk on that, what I mean by that is shifting a lot of your audio spend to broadcast radio. Take another look at it because it’s where your listeners are, it’s where your consumers are. That’s what we mean by, your brand might be on mute if you’re not careful.
John Koetsier: Let’s talk about customization. You got massive scale. You’re reaching nine in 10 Americans and I’m sure many more beyond that as well. How do you customize? How do you segment and personalize to give somebody what they need? I know you’re doing something interesting with Muuv Labs for fitness. How do you do that there and in other areas?
Conal Byrne: Customization, I think, is the next chapter of digital audio. We are in it now, by the way. I don’t mean to pretend like this isn’t happening now. All of the targeting and attribution tools that digital media is well-known for, podcasting, for example, has caught up to almost entirely in the last 24, 36 months. We don’t think of our almost 500 million downloads a month as, here’s a bunch of titles that we can do Hofstra ads on. We can do that, and we do. Those are highly customized and you have the best influencers in the world telling your brand story: again, Will Ferrell, Malcolm Gladwell, Charlamagne tha God, Nikki Glaser, Bowen Yang. I can go on and on. Telling your brand stories, yes, that is still maybe the best ad unit in the world right now in podcasting.
But what’s really driven podcast ad sales and digital audio ad sales at iHeart is audience targeting and how it’s caught up so fast. That has a lot of different versions. There’s psychographic targeting, where we can pull together a cohort of shows that we have enough data on to show you that it is a meaningful cohort, a contextual cohort of the kind of audience you’re looking for. We can also get even more specific and do actual targeting around demos and age and territories. All I’m saying is this medium has come a very long way in two or three years to look a lot like digital media.
I think some of the most exciting stuff happening now is in voice technology being able to capture, always with the permission, by the way, of creators. I never want to overlook that, but starting to experiment with enough of the capture of a human voice so as to be able to tailor it to the 50 states around the country or the 160 markets around the country so that you’re not just doing a single Hofstra ad as a national campaign, but you’re customizing and tailoring that to the local markets. Now, that can be in the local lexicon and dialogue, it can also just reference local stuff. That is super exciting. By the way, I hate to keep… Let me add to this, it’s what broadcast radio is amazing at. It really is. Broadcast radio at its core is almost 900 stations in local markets.
Podcasting is catching up to that. Digital audio generally is going to catch up to that through technology. There’s a lot of great engineers working on this, fast. It’s just one of those things you don’t want to roll out too early or marketers and creators might not think it’s good enough, and then you’re set back a couple of years because they won’t try it again. So we’ll get it exactly right and then roll it out. I think this is a 2023 thing; I don’t think it’s a 2027 thing. The ability to take an incredible creator and say, “Look, you’re used to national-level Hofstra ads. Let’s actually tailor this to 50 states or 172 cities or whatever through voice capture.” It’s awesome that you control then through a tech software, very simple. Could be really, really awesome. That kind of customization is pretty cool.
Right now, if a brand, big or small, walked into iHeartMedia and said, “I want to come in at any altitude in audio. I want a highly tailored branded podcast,” the likes of which we’ve done for T-Mobile and Under Armour and Scotts Miracle Gro and IBM, or, “I want a hyper-local podcast in just these seven markets with exactly this kind of geo-targeted demographic.” Either one is okay with us and either one can involve an influencer, this word that gets used a lot in media, but either one can involve a creator. And that’s pretty unique.
Peggy Anne Salz: That is an incredible portfolio to engage audiences, Conal, really. And you’re talking about all the different ways you’re going to be doing this. The thing about the hyper-local, that is very exciting. But, of course, the other side of this, and what we always end our show with is, we talk about how to create amazing experiences but also about how to retain the audiences. So I have to ask you, what’s your golden rule of retention?
Conal Byrne: Well, first of all, when we talk about retention, I’ll tell you what’s been strange and awesome about podcasting is that as it has grown in monthly listeners, the engagement rate has not declined. That is odd. Usually, your early adopter super fans engage hugely, and then as you reach mass reach, the average individual’s engagement decreases just a little bit. We just haven’t seen that in podcasting. It has held very high, very lean-in. The golden rule for podcasting is, if the microphone were broken, what would you still be talking about? And it’s actually funny. I steal that from John Cassavetes, a great film director, who said, “Sometimes when I’m making a film, the moment is so real and the acting is so good with…” He had this sort of family or troupe of actors that he constantly worked with. “…that I almost wish the camera would break because it’s the only artificial thing in the room.”
I sort of drag that metaphor into podcasting. If you’re podcasting about something that you would keep talking about if the microphone broke, you’re doing it right. It’s so authentic and genuine that you will find an audience. This rule holds if you saw Will Ferrell in production on “Ron Burgundy” all the way through to “Stuff You Should Know” that still publishes twice a week, 15, 16 years later, and has never missed a publish date as a promise to their fans. That rule really holds. So when we bring in new creators into the medium, whether they’re very well-known or just new voices that deserve to be well-known, our job is to find their path toward that total comfort and authenticity. I honestly think we’ve done a pretty good job of this so far. A lot of our hard work has gone into, yes, recruiting amazing talent, but also building a team of really good producers. That’s the hard part. So, been great.
John Koetsier: Wonderful.
Peggy Anne Salz: I think we nailed it, John, because we would continue this even if the microphone was broken, don’t you agree?
John Koetsier: Yes, exactly. I would be having this conversation anyways.
Peggy Anne Salz: I’m all in.
John Koetsier: I love it. I love it. Absolutely.
Conal Byrne: This is your moment to say, “Well, I guess this is when we should say the microphone is broken,” so we got to do all that over.
John Koetsier: Goodbye? No.
Peggy Anne Salz: We just keep going. Keep going over like some of you.
John Koetsier: Actually, he kind of needs that one. Otherwise, you wouldn’t hear me.
Conal Byrne: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
John Koetsier: Now, this has been great, Conal. Thank you so much for this time. I’ve learned a lot. I really appreciate it and I thank you so much.
Conal Byrne: Awesome. John, Peggy, thank you, guys. Really appreciate it. I know you guys are busy, and it means a lot to make time for me. Thank you.
Peggy Anne Salz: Thank you. Definitely a plus one from here, Conal. I can’t wait to see all this cool stuff. You’ve got me interested again in audio. Thanks so much.
Conal Byrne: Awesome. Take care, everybody. Have a good day.
John Koetsier: This is “Three Top Tips with iHeartMedia CEO Conal Byrne.”
Peggy Anne Salz: Number one, what is the number one motivation for podcast listeners?
Conal Byrne: To learn something they don’t know. We have researched this and what we have seen time and time again is the mode of somebody listening to a podcast is curiosity, educational. They’re in a mode to learn something new – different, by the way, than somebody listening to a playlist or music streaming. That’s a lean-back mode. I want to sort of disengage. Podcasting is lean-in. I want to engage, I want to learn something.
John Koetsier: Number two, what is the best marketing advice you ever got?
Conal Byrne: That’s a good one because I worked for a man named Bob Pittman, who I believe is one of the best marketers of all time. He founded a company called MTV a long time ago, and he’s now the CEO of iHeartMedia. I think it’s to not assume that you know what audiences want just because the data told you something or didn’t tell you something. Data tells you the answers to the questions you asked, not necessarily the answers you need, and is always a little more complicated and interesting than you think. It’s been a huge lesson to me in sort of drafting along his, honestly, genius in marketing. That sticks out.
Peggy Anne Salz: That has to be the best sound bite in a while, and so truthful, so truthful. Number three, the best marking advice you were ever forced to deliver.
Conal Byrne: Oh, man, I was forced to deliver, which means I didn’t really want to, but I did it anyway. When you’re in a big traditional media company or established media company… I have been in a couple of those, and sometimes those established media companies will use new digital media to market the established media. This is tricky when… Previous life I was at Discovery Communications. Incredible company with an incredible trajectory. No debating that, but that sort of push and pull of, let’s use digital as a marketing channel as opposed to its own thing, that’s a little tense and hard. You sort of stifle a new platform potentially if it’s only marketing. At iHeartMedia, it’s been entirely different. Digital audio, especially podcasting, has been really supported as not just a marketing channel, but as its own thing, its own new content type and new storytelling tool, and that’s made, I think, all the difference.
John Koetsier: Wonderful. Thank you, Conal. Thank you so much for your time. Do appreciate it. Looking forward to seeing what else you’re going to come out with, what you’re going to launch at con, looking at iHeartLand on Roblox. Cool stuff. Thank you for your time.
Conal Byrne: Awesome. Take care, everybody. Be well.